By: Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, CEO of Vestergaard Frandsen
Women deliver in so many ways. It is usually a woman who gives so much of herself without hesitation, negating her needs to serve those of others.
She is the mother who patiently sifts through the dust for stray grains of rice to feed her malnourished children. She is the wife who lovingly cares for a husband with tuberculosis. She is the family’s caregiver who walks seven kilometers every day to fetch water from a brown river so her family can drink. And she never complains.
That same woman suppresses her own dreams of education to do piecemeal work to pay for her children’s school fees. And when her youngest child spikes a fever in the middle of the night, she will barter whatever she can to get a truck driver to carry them to the nearest clinic three villages away. She doesn’t know how she will pay for medication if available, or for the long trip home. But through sheer determination, she’ll find a way.
Despite this selflessness, a woman’s powers to protect, nurture, heal, and uplift her family is only as strong as her own physical well-being. She cannot hope to keep a job or feed her family if she is sick; nor can she pursue an education if her own family is splintered by the preventable diseases that often become life sentences.
Her health and welfare must be a higher concern for everyone.
Malaria, diarrheal disease, and HIV are three of the biggest public health killers impacting the lives of women and their families in developing countries. They all have devoted advocates, partnerships, and bureaucracies designed to address their causes and cures. But we can no longer afford to address these killers separately because the outcome of these individual efforts – in terms of reduced suffering and lives saved – is just too slow and inefficient. They need to be addressed together because they are so closely intertwined.
In 2008, we found away to address each of these diseases through one integrated campaign. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of our company by bringing nearly every employee to Kakamega, Kenya for a unique project that would provide a meaningful way for our staff to meet the people who benefit from our products. Accountants worked alongside Administrative Assistants and Lab Specialists in a public health campaign that addressed malaria, HIV and diarrheal disease. Staff demonstrated products to rural residents, and set-up dozens of temporary HIV counseling and testing clinics in this rural community.
Kenyan counselors gave men and women a CarePack® of healthcare interventions tailored specifically for their needs. Women received a bed net to prevent malaria, condoms to prevent HIV, educational material, and a high-volume water purifier called LifeStraw® Family to prevent diarrheal disease. Men received a bed net, condoms and educational material, and a LifeStraw® personal water filter. With the CarePack® as incentive, local residents participated in an HIV counseling and testing program. Providing an opportunity for an entire community to learn their status in one integrated campaign reduced the stigma often encountered during individual one-on-one testing, and created an effective model that can be replicated far beyond the boarders of Kenya.
The CarePack® campaign was a runaway success. Almost 50,000 people participated in the seven day campaign, achieving the goal of testing 80% of the target population in the rural Kenyan community. We empowered men and women to know their status, and if they tested positive, took proactive steps to provide long-term access to medication and counseling. And, we proved that a new, multi-disease prevention approach could deliver public health interventions faster and more efficiently.
During the campaign I met Francisca, a widow with six children who tested positive for HIV. Desperately poor, she brews traditional beverages to earn what she can. Her health has improved since the campaign; she’s taking her medication, attending a support group, and visits the clinic regularly for CD4 tests. She says her family has enjoyed much better health because of the nets and filter.
The developing world is full of women like Francisca who are able to overcome tremendous obstacles to care for themselves and their families. And we must do more to help them succeed.
The campaign helped to empower women by providing testing for men, since fathers and husbands are a traditionally difficult population to reach with public health campaigns in Africa. And only when people know their HIV status can effective steps be taken to protect the health of their loved ones and communities.
Integrated public health campaigns like CarePack® can reach large numbers of people in a very short period of time, promote the health of women and communities, and maximize donor aid dollars. And together we can meet the needs of the most vulnerable women in the world like Francisca.
To learn more about our approach visit: www.vestergaard-frandsen.com/women-deliver